U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation Celebrates 20 Years of Protecting Sri Lanka’s Rich and Diverse Heritage

COLOMBO, April 12, 2021:  This month marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. State Department’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), which has provided more than 200 million Sri Lankan Rupees ($1 million) in funding to protect Sri Lanka’s diverse cultural treasures.

Since 2001, AFCP has funded 13 projects in Sri Lanka.  Projects have included the comprehensive documentation of western monasteries and historic buildings within the World Heritage sites of Anuradhapura and Galle, the restoration of the Batticaloa Dutch Fort, and the establishment of an Archaeological Museum Laboratory to preserve Tamil artifacts.  Recognizing that some forms of Sri Lankan’s traditions can’t be found in a building, the AFCP has also supported the preservation of the intangible heritage of ritual music and dance forms of the Adivasi, Tamil, and Buddhist communities.  All AFCP projects involve expert local partners and promote the use of traditional materials and methods.  These programs strengthen civil society, spur economic growth, and foster respect for cultural diversity.

“Traveling around Sri Lanka and visiting some of the projects the AFCP has helped protect, the country’s long history as a home to a variety of ethnicities and religions immediately becomes clear,” said U.S. Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz.  “I’m proud the United States is helping Sri Lankans celebrate that heritage and is preserving it for future generations to appreciate and explore.”

One of the AFCP’s first large-scale projects began in 2005 with a survey on cultural properties inside the Matara Dutch Fort that were affected by the 2004 tsunami.  The detailed survey included measured drawings, photographs, illustrations, and a conditional survey detailing the tsunami’s damage.

Most recently, Ambassador Teplitz re-opened the renovated Anuradhapura Department of Archeology Museum in September 2019.  The decade-long museum renovation project included upgraded preservation techniques and equipment for its collection and was funded through three separate grant awards by the AFCP for display cases and security, cataloging and conservation of the museum collection, and training for Department of Archaeology staff on the conservation of artifacts.

Other projects include the conservation and restoration of cave dwellings, monuments, and buildings belonging to the Rajagala Buddhist forest monastery.  The project also restored the walkways that connect stupas, common buildings, caves with meditation paintings, and other significant structures. Additional excavations were conducted that identified a pre-historic human settlement, which were the first ever research excavations carried out in the Eastern Province in Sri Lanka.

The AFCP is a grant program established by the State Department at the request of Congress that has supported over 1,000 cultural preservation projects in more than 130 countries since 2001, including Sri Lanka.  More information about the 13 projects funded by the AFCP can be found in the factsheet provided below.

FACT SHEET: History of AFCP Projects in Sri Lanka

Since 2005 the United States has spent more than $1,040,000 USD to support cultural preservation projects in Sri Lanka in partnership with Sri Lankan government and private sector entities.  These local partners bring technical and cultural expertise to each project and help ensure Sri Lanka’s heritage is meaningfully preserved.

  • 2005: Four-month survey of cultural properties located inside the Matara Dutch Fort that were affected by the tsunami, including survey on area history, building damage, and recommendations for conservation of individual buildings and broad urban conservation plan by International Council on Monuments and Sites.
  • 2007: Documentation of monasteries at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Anuradhapura in conjunction with the Central Cultural Fund for the UNESCO-Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle Program.
  • 2008: Partnership with Government Film Unit of Sri Lanka to preserve documentary and feature films of the Independence era, transferring films that represent a variety of ethnic groups to DVD for long-term preservation.
  • 2009: Creation and publication of an online inventory and catalogue of the Anuradhpura and Yatala Museums collections, preserving objects accumulated over a hundred years of excavations in partnership with the Department of Archaeology.
  • 2011: Surveys, documentation, and construction for conservation of Dutch Fort in Batticaloa in partnership with Institute of Town Planners of Sri Lanka.
  • 2011: In partnership with the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, comprehensive documentation of historic buildings within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Dutch Fort, creating a conservation plan for each building.
  • 2012: Collaboration with the Department of Archaeology to promote conservation of artifacts from World Heritage Sites and national museums, including assessing museum equipment and training.
  • 2013: With the Department of Archaeology and Environmental Planning Service Ltd., preserve and restore Building B of the Batticaloa Dutch Fort and create a Cultural Resource Management Center for the multi-ethnic and multi-religious community of Batticaloa.
  • 2013: With the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, comprehensive conservation of the ancient monuments within the Rajagala Buddhist Monastery Archaeological Reserve in the Ampara District.  The forest meditation monastery site is one of the rarest archeologically-untouched sites in Sri Lanka, neglected for nearly thirty years due to war.
  • 2015: With the University of Sri Jayawardenapura, restoration of cave dwellings, monuments and buildings belonging to Rajagala Buddhist forest monastery.
  • 2015: Further collaboration with the Department of Archaeology providing display cases to conserve Buddhist, Hindu, and other collections housed in the Anuradhapura Archaeological Site Museum, with the objective of applying preventive conservation measures for archeological artifacts.
  • 2016: Partnered with University of Peradeniya to preserve four endangered traditional and indigenous ritual music, dance forms, and related craftsmanship from Adivasi, Tamil Hindu, and Buddhist communities.
  • 2018: In partnership with University of Jaffna, an Archaeological Museum Laboratory was established to conserve and preserve Tamil artifacts.